Action in fragile states: sustainable support for governments and populations

Switzerland works to establish peaceful, just and inclusive societies as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is involved in the efforts of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS). Together with other development cooperation actors, it endeavours to make sure its actions are guided by an in-depth analysis of the context and to employ methods that take account of the dynamics of conflict in order to build community resilience, reduce political and social conflict and support pathways out of fragility.

The SDC adopted its own peacebuilding and statebuilding goals in 2015. These are based on the model developed thanks to the OECD’s efforts by the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS).

The goals underline the importance of supporting development partners in their pathways out of fragility. To achieve this, Switzerland makes fragility considerations an integral part of all its policies and its portfolio of operations. In particular, it strives to shape and strengthen those aspects that are linked to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 16 and the OECD Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs).

Switzerland seeks to understand fragility in all its complexity and dimensions. It is developing operational and quality assurance standards that can be applied to the new strategies. When launching its new programmes in the regions concerned, the expertise of its staff in conflict-sensitive programme management (CSPM) and human-rights based approaches (HRBAs) allows it to draw on a wide range of appropriate instruments that are both context-specific and conflict-sensitive.

Together with its partners, it endeavours to deliver smarter aid in fragile contexts and to step up its efforts on prevention, consolidation and sustaining peace, while supporting the efforts and capacities of its development partners to deliver inclusive solutions to their own states of fragility.

Preventing and resolving crises

The SDC has set itself the goal of making a significant contribution to addressing the root causes of conflict, strengthening resilience to crises, improving respect for human rights and generally bringing about the peaceful resolution of social and political conflicts in the countries in which it operates.

The SDC’s work in fragile and conflicted-affected countries is guided by the 10 OECD principles, which are intended to help national reformers to build effective, legitimate and robust state institutions. Specifically, they state the following:

  • Take context as the starting point
  • Ensure all activities do no harm
  • Focus on statebuilding as the central objective
  • Prioritise prevention
  • Recognise the links between political, security and development objectives
  • Promote non-discrimination as a basis for inclusive and stable societies
  • Align with local priorities in different ways in different contexts
  • Agree on practical coordination mechanisms between international actors
  • Act fast… but stay engaged long enough to give success a chance
  • Avoid pockets of exclusion

Long-term engagement combined with a flexible approach

Increasing Switzerland’s involvement in fragile and conflict-affected states and regions calls for long-term engagement combined with a flexible approach. Building and stabilising state structures takes time, as does winning citizens’ trust. According to the World Bank, it takes at least 15 to 30 years for countries emerging from a lengthy period of conflict to establish a functioning government.

The SDC constantly adapts its development cooperation approach and instruments used to the local context and evolving situation. Its actions take the form of humanitarian aid, development cooperation, support for the activities of an international organisation or a combination of these instruments.

As a clear analysis of the situation is crucial to the success of development cooperation, the SDC works together with other members of the Federal Administration, civil society and multilateral organisations.

A mix of experience and long-term vision

In its work, the SDC can draw on several decades of experience, which it combines with forward planning. Long-term statebuilding and peacebuilding efforts can help to overcome fragility and violence. This was the case in Nepal, where Switzerland did not abandon any of its projects during the armed conflict of 1996–2006, but instead constantly adapted them, thus enabling development programmes in the areas of education, bridge and road construction, and forestry to continue throughout this period. The same goes for countries such as Haiti, Myanmar and Burundi, which have also experienced periods of tension in recent years.

Long-term engagement in complex and dynamic contexts – whether in relation to development cooperation, emergency aid or transition assistance – requires both better analysis of the situation in question and greater acceptance on the part of the various actors. Regular contact with the target groups, focusing on the needs of the poor and involving people from a wide range of social and ethnic backgrounds all help to make long-term support possible and to ensure its success.

Conflict- and risk-sensitive programming for pathways to change

The term conflict-sensitive programme management (CSPM) refers to a range of development cooperation methods used in fragile and conflict-affected countries and regions. Conflict sensitivity means being aware of the two-way interaction between the conflict and the action taken, in order to avoid any negative impacts (that could exacerbate the conflict) and instead maximise the positive impacts that serve peacebuilding goals. These methods call for a deeper analysis of the risks associated with contexts, programmes and institutions. Adopting this approach makes Switzerland’s interventions better equipped to support development pathways that offer the best prospects for the local population and to react to significant changes in the situation.

The main elements of this approach are:

  • Context analysis: The dynamics of a conflict are analysed and a strategy developed to help the country concerned resolve the conflict. At the same time, the interaction between a programme and its context must be understood and regularly monitored. 
  • Scenarios: Analysing conflict dynamics enables possible future scenarios that may contribute to changing those dynamics to be identified; in this way, the overriding objectives of Swiss development cooperation can be achieved by adapting programmes accordingly. The goal is frequently to 'stay engaged', i.e. continue working even when the situation worsens.
  • Management: Key management tasks include risk and security management, communication and putting together teams that include representatives of the various ethnic or social groups from the region concerned. 
  • Do no harm: As well as early detection of conflicts and providing support to affected countries, CSPM also requires conflict-sensitivity amongst SDC staff to ensure they do not inadvertently support factors that could aggravate an existing conflict. Above all, this means raising awareness of the 'do no harm' approach.

From fragility to peace: accompanying transition processes

The adoption in 2016 of SDG 16, the 2030 Agenda goal for promoting peaceful and inclusive societies with strong institutions, marked a turning point. Since then, the development community has directly included peace factors in its interventions.

This realisation also points to the success of the efforts made by Switzerland and the other donors within the OECD to enact the New Deal for engagement in fragile states (commonly referred to simply as the ‘New Deal’), which they had agreed in Busan in 2011. The main aims of this initiative are to support fragile states as they transition towards peace and to respond to the specific needs of their situation, specifically by adopting five peacebuilding and statebuilding goals (PSGs):

  • Legitimate and inclusive politics: Foster inclusive political settlements and conflict resolution
  • Security: Establish and strengthen people’s security
  • Justice: Address injustices and increase people’s access to justice
  • Economic foundations: Generate employment and improve livelihoods
  • Revenues and services: Manage revenue and build capacity for accountable and fair service delivery

Switzerland played an active role in the adoption of the New Deal and continues to use the PSGs as a foundation to guide its work in fragile situations.

The SDC’s engagement in fragile and conflict-affected contexts

Around half of the countries and regions in which Switzerland is actively involved qualify as fragile, i.e. they suffer from the effects of internal or external conflict, frequent natural disasters, weak or unstable state institutions and extreme poverty, and their populations are subject to violence and political arbitrariness.